Walk in the Park

Wednesday: Not much in the way of interesting for classes. Not that they were boring, just nothing you would be interested in reading about. I'm surprised how easily I've adjusted to the long class periods, given that I found 1:15 French classes at Midd somewhat murderous. Wednesday evening I had dinner with Elizabeth at the crêperie in one of the university restaurants, which was excellent, then spent the evening hanging out at her house, making applesauce in the microwave (something which had never occured to me) and watching a very French movie on TV before heading to Les Bacchantes for an evening of French folk music/dancing. It was very fun, though I had more success with the couples dancing than the pseudo-contra dancing (turns out it's a lot harder with nobody to call the steps). My favorite dance, which can be danced to pretty much any music and of which I've forgotten the name, is a sort of cross between polka and merengue: one-and-two, three-and-four, one, two, three, four. I have a feeling a lot of waltz steps/turns could be adapted to work pretty well with it; I was itching to try open spirals or flip-flops, but a) I don't lead very well and b) the dance floor was small and very crowded. Oh well. It reminded me somewhat of Dr. Quiring's classes in College Station, plus alcohol and cigarette smoke. But people actually asked other people to dance in a non-sketchy manner, and it was all very social and fun.

Thursday: After not nearly enough sleep, we presented ourselves at a high school in a section of Poitiers I've never seen before (the city is actually quite large, there's just not much occasion to go anywhere other than downtown) to take the TCF (Test de connaissance de français, same principle as the TOEFL). It lasted an hour and a half and reminded me strongly of the written tests we took for Texas French Symposium in high school. I was torn between wanting to do well because...well, I like to be good at things, and not wanting to do too well as we'll be taking it again at the end of our stay to ascertain whether we've actually improved. (Un)fortunately, I don't think doing too well will be a problem. It wasn't awful, but there were definitely questions I wasn't sure of. It had an annoyingly SAT-like tendency to present two answers that each seemed about half-correct. Apparently standardized testing is subject to the same weaknesses in any language. I came home for the afternoon and intended to take a nap, but instead watched The World is Not Enough (Pierce Brosnan as James Bond is not at the top of my list, but he's a little bit swoon-worthy) before leaving with Brenda and her friend Magalie for Tours to see the sketches put on by Christelle's business school orientation program. The drive was gorgeous - an hour and a half of afternoon-sunlit farmland (the kind little kids draw pictures of) interspersed with clusters of houses, each with its own suitably ancient-looking church steeple. I saw plenty of signs for castles once we entered the Loire Valley, though no actual castles. I'm definitely scheming to return there, though. The sketches themselves were amusing parodies of commercials (business school, after all), but the best part was the musical interludes between acts. It doesn't get much better than "Hit the Road, Jack" in a French accent. It was followed by a cocktail party with absolutely gorgeous hors d'oeuvres and miniature éclairs and such (and absolutely fake chips and salsa, which amused me), and then the same drive home, which was not as pretty, what with everything being dark and me being tired.

Friday: More catechising in my history class, though we finally got to some actual French history in the last hour. I spent about 20 minutes being very confused because the city of Reims is pronounced more like "Rhince." Three hours of time-killing and a literature class later, I found myself with at least an hour until the prospect of a bus, so I decided to head downtown and check out the Parc de Blossac, which satisfies every cherished notion of a park (except perhaps the presence of an antique carousel). It's built partially on the remnants of some 12th-century ramparts, and from one end you can look out over the River Clain, which was sparkling charmingly in the afternoon sun. There are proper tree-lined promenades, a fountain, a grapevine trellis, and a grassy amphitheater. Sadly, I've lost my tourist instinct to take my camera everywhere, so I don't have any pictures yet. I'll definitely be returning. Upon returning home, I (sleepily) ate dinner with my host family (it's very comforting to know that French people occasionally eat fish sticks and mashed potatoes too) and watched Die Another Day, sadly concluding the Pierce Brosnan missions. Oh well.

Today: Almost nothing. I finished one translation and tried to start another, but it's a passage of Toni Morisson's Song of Solomon, and there is no good way to render it in French. Either I don't attempt to represent the dialect and strip the text of half its meaning, or I render it in some French dialect that has completely inappropriate sociocultural/economic connotations and adds a layer of meaning for native French speakers not present in the original text. It's impossible. I'll try again tomorrow. Instead, I watched Licence to Kill and determined that Timothy Dalton is not worth it. I'm definitely getting some sort of cultural education by being here...I'm just not sure it's particularly French. Ah well.


In which the author waxes lyrical about etymology

Today was a fairly uneventful day of classes. My hand nearly fell off from taking notes in interpretation, since the entire class consists of writing madly in an attempt to glean every detail from a two-minute discourse in French or English, and then resting your hand while some brave soul has a go at rendering it in the other language. The limit seems to be about six per class, after lots of "um" and "euh" and (finally) explanations by the professors, and since I gave it a shot last week, I won't get to go again for a while. So basically it's a class in note-taking skills. Still, I enjoy it.

My other class today was translation: version (i.e. English to French). Turns out I was the only one to send my translation to the professor ahead of time like he said we could - hurrah for currying favor with vaguely evil professors. There was plenty of red on the paper, but at the bottom it said très bien pour un premier devoir (very good for a first assignment), so I am not without hope of doing well in the class, despite his severity. He knows a lot about etymology* and is extremely good at his subject - several of the translations he proposed made me quite green with envy that I hadn't thought of them. My little red book of conjugations has already come in extremely handy, and today I bought another book called Vocabulaire de l'anglais contemporain, which is actually meant for French people but should also prove very useful. It's comprised entirely of thematic vocabulary lists, with English on the left and French on the right. They're excessively thorough, and two of my translation professors handily reference appropriate sections at the top of the page of text for translation. So hopefully I will soon be up on idiomatic usage and all that jazz.

Tomorrow I have more classes, including the one for which I have to read the amazingly long 16th century travelogue, then Bible study, then my first intentional experience with French nightlife. Several of us are getting together with Jeanne to go to Les Bacchantes (of host-family-dancing fame) to dance to French folk music. Hardcore partying, as you can see. I'm spending the night with Elizabeth, due to my far-away habitation. Thursday morning is the TCF, a national French exam Midd is obliging us to take. We'll take it again at the end of our stay here, so they can reassure themselves that this program actually worth their effort, I suppose. I'm sure staying out late and dancing is an excellent way to prepare for said exam.

Today I talked to a girl who is (I think) a student of my host mother - she's looking for someone to help her with her English, which I think will be fun and indirectly good for my French. She tried to vouvoyer me on the phone though, which was just weird (you use vous ("you") to be polite to people who are older than you or whom you don't know well, but generally young people don't use it with one another). Kind of like the shopkeepers who call me Madame, or back home "ma'am." I'm not old. Stop it.

Apparently it doesn't matter how many days I write about at a time; if you give me space, I will ramble on. I would apologize, but as nobody is obliging you to read this, I suppose it's unnecessary. And now, off to dinner.

*Including English etymology. Today we got the etymology of negation in both French and English. In French, it was originally just ne ("not"), plus whatever appropriate noun you wanted to employ. So il ne marche pas means literally/originally, "he doesn't walk a step." For other situations, you would use other nouns. Only a few got retained and normalized as part of generic negation, so you have ne...point, ne...pas, etc. In English, the word "not" comes from three Old English words (he was explaining this in French and not writing anything down, so I don't know exactly what they are), the first of which sounds like "na" and the last very much like "whit," meaning "not," "least," and "twig." When slurred together, they ended up as "naught" and "not" in modern English. So actually, the phrase "not a bit" or "not a whit" is a holdover from the older expression and is etymologically sort of redundant. Oh, how I love words.


La samba des jours avec toi

Time for another "brief" resume...er, no, that's not actually the word in English...what am I trying to say? Summary. While I wouldn't say my French is improving in leaps and bounds, I'm definitely getting worse at English, for whatever that's worth.

Friday: First day of class for "Religion, pouvoir et société en France: XVI, XVII, XVIII siècle." We spent most of the (three hour) class covering the basics of Christianity, by which our professor actually meant Catholicism. As in, "to be a good Christian, you must believe in the edicts of the Pope and the councils, which are comprised of representatives of all Christian priests." Um, right, about those Protestants and Orthodox churches...Still, he's an interesting lecturer (for which I am excessively grateful, given the length of the class period) and I think it's going to be a really good class. It's also quite comforting to have other Middkids in the room. Also the first class for "Histoire de littérature du Moyen Age," which...isn't as interesting as it sounds, so far. The professor printed out the notes for us, and then pretty much read them aloud for the hour and a half class. At least it won't be much work. Thanks to the foibles of the bus system, I had a few hours after that class finished before any prospect of getting back to Mignaloux would present itself, so I headed into downtown. My jeans have been getting a bit loose, so I figured the obvious solution was to eat more pastries and hence bought an extremely tasty and beautiful strawberry tart, which I consumed in the sun in the Place Charles de Gaulle. Just in case that didn't work, I went to Monoprix and bought a belt.

Saturday: Into town a bit early so I could peruse the market in front of Notre Dame by myself before meeting the rest of the group. This is a serious market. You can (and people obviously do) buy all your groceries for the week there. The dead chickens (with head and feet attached) disturb me, the bread makes me drool, and the flowers are a constant temptation. Fortunately, I know they couldn't survive a day of wandering around with me, so my pocketbook is safe. I did indulge in fresh raspberries and a baguette (I refrained from the amazing and huge donut-shaped loaf of bread). Then I met some other Middkids plus Jeanne, a former Middlebury French T.A. and Poitiers native, and we had a picnic (I tried pâté - and didn't like it at all - but was fairly proud of myself for being brave) before heading off to see a few things for the Journées de Patrimoine, i.e. "all those cool buildings they don't normally open to the public are on view this weekend." The things we visited weren't really what I had in mind, but we did see a pretty nifty little chapel absolutely covered in wood carvings, the inside of a nunnery (disappointingly modern - turns out it's also a retirement home, run by the nuns), and the Baptistère St. Jean, which before it was a baptistry was a Roman villa, and after it stopped being a baptistry was a workshop for a bell-maker who used the baptismal pool for casting. There are some neat frescos on the walls. I thought about striking off on my own after the group disbanded, but I'd had enough walking so instead headed home, where Christelle and I were abandoned by the rest of the family, who had various things to do. We foraged for dinner and ended up making a salad with grapefruit and corn (such obvious things as tomatoes being lacking), and I was told off for not being familiar with Moby (a singer, apparently?). It was really quite a nice evening.

Sunday: Church as usual - it's getting harder to understand the American pastor as I get more acclimated to hearing actual French people speak French. Also, the really weird non-liturgical communion thing is getting old. This coming Saturday night I'm planning on checking out mass at the Catholic church in Mignaloux (never mind that I can't take communion there at all). Afterwards, Christelle and I were supposed to pick up Brenda from the friend's house where she'd stayed the night, but were instead invited to join them for lunch. It turned out to be a whole crowd of British people, two of whom own this gorgeous and huge property that they've turned into a sort of auberge thing, the rest of whom were just down for the weekend (would that I had that much money). They were practically caricatures of themselves, gossiping about the royal family, discussing football, and saying "tremendous" every other word. It was quite charming. The oyster I choked down to be polite was not so charming. Followed by seafood pie, which I also ate (not wanting to be a stupid American is making me very adventurous). At that point one of the British guys started quizzing me on American politics, making it very clear that he was very right-wing, but also much better informed than me, so I mostly made polite, noncommital hem-hemming noises. It was awkward. The afternoon was passed working on my English-to-French translation homework, which was truly evil - obviously chosen for all the descriptive language, whose plethora of English synonyms boil down to three or four French words. And then dinner with my family, which was...seafood casserole, and whole miniature lobster things. Christelle had to crack mine open for me, as I had no clue what I was doing. I nearly chickened out, but I peeled off its little claw-foot-things and ate it mostly without shuddering. But really, I almost had a heart attack when Brenda took the lid off the casserole dish.

Today: I'm starting to get acclimated to this early morning thing, though I wouldn't say I enjoy it per se. I went to second-year translation this morning (my first time, having missed it last week), and it would have been excellent if the students would just stop muttering all the time. I could barely understand the professor or the person reading their translation. My third-year translation class this afternoon was about half the size and therefore didn't have that problem, but my professor drives me a bit nuts. She's English, and we clearly don't speak the same version of the language. I'll translate the French in a way that sounds perfectly natural to an American, and she'll look at me like I have three heads before giving me a brusque "no" and telling the class the only right way to translate it (her way, obviously). It's a pity, because French-to-English is the side of translation I actually want to be able to discuss in depth and talk about nuance and interpretation and such. Oh well. In between my classes (a space of five and a half hours - quite long, but not long enough to make going home worth it), I went to the library (which is dead quiet and full of silent, studious people, quite a contrast to the section of the Midd library I'm used to working on) to read more of my Histoire d'un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil. I probably covered 80 pages in the space of several hours' concentrated reading. So, you know, only 500 more to go. I might make it by the end of the semester. Upon getting home, therefore, I did the responsible thing and watched a James Bond movie. My host family has the complete collection, and I've only ever seen the most recent, so I watched GoldenEye. It was pretty excellent, in a cheesy action movie sort of way. I have a feeling I will be taking further advantage of their DVD collection. Although I had to change the region settings on my laptop in order to watch it, which I'm slightly displeased about as apparently you can only do so five times (which seems quite arbitrary). Oh well.

And now, having caught up with myself, I am going to head to bed. I really want my 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. sleep schedule back.